Face Off: The Voices (2014) and Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Motion State Face Offs pit two films, franchises, or television series against each another for no reason other than because we can.

There are ostensibly only a small handful of things that The Voices and Kingsman: The Secret Service have in common. Both are 2014 releases with a satirical vibe that sometimes plays as downright cartoony. Both are Rated-R violent. Both played on a recent transatlantic flight that I took. They’re both movies, too, and both star actors and actresses and have titles made up of letters. The fact that Voices and Kingsman both exist is their greatest commonality, although it’s not necessarily something you’re particularly happy about once you realize that all of these other really good movies — hey, they exist too.

And therein lies the actual thread linking Voices to Kingsman. The former stars Ryan Reynolds as a meek little manchild with an odd little habit of talking to his pets. He hears their voices in his head, and he and his cat and his dog have some rollicking conversations. Oh, yeah, and he also has a penchant for killing people and chopping them up, too. Kingsman is a spy flick that might be a spy spoof, following a young lad named Eggsy as he’s initiated into a secret service of super-suave sleeper scouts. Taron Egerton plays Eggsy, but the show is stolen by his mentor figure Galahad, played by Colin Firth. In both cases we have pretty solid cast at hand. And in both cases nearly every single one of them is slumming it.

Kingsman is the more obvious example, and by far the better film. Michael Caine and Samuel L. Jackson aren’t huge surprises, mostly because they star in every movie ever in some capacity and thus agree to a throwaway role every now and then. Relative newcomer Egerton is clearly relishing the opportunity to work with a cross-section of British Greats. It’s Colin Firth, again, who seems out of place on paper. This is the posh gentleman given an Academy Award for his portrayal of King George VI, the prim-and-proper Master of Manners. He’s more or less the definitive Mr. Darcy. He stares at you and the command that enters your head is swoon. In Kingsman, he slaughters a hundred innocent people in a church as the “Freebird” solo blasts overhead.

There’s no good video of the scene in question — a commenter rightly describes this fan-edited clip as driving a Ferrari and stopping short every hundred yards — but the point isn’t that the scene is well-paced; it’s that Mr. Darcy is a f*cking badass:

Firth’s casting as Galahad could have been a disaster — it could have been what you’d expect from such a guy in such a movie, a high-society Notting Hill-type trying to fit in with the Hackney toughs. It could even have occupied the middle ground if Firth only did an okay job as Harry Hart. Instead, Firth gives 100% and ends up being the best part of Kingsman by a long shot. The film isn’t fantastic, but it is vibrant and confident and athletic. Firth, even though a violent stylized comic-book adaptation should be below him, is all of those things too.

Which brings us to The Voices, which is none of those things and also not a fantastic film. Quite the opposite — Voices is one of the most thoroughly soporific things I’ve had the displeasure of viewing, utterly uninvolving at every turn, only keeping me awake because it’s making my blood boil at how f*cking terrible this movie is. It’s difficult to even form a coherent argument in the face of such arrogant idiocy except to just weep and drool and mutter please, please do not watch this movie. I would take pride in going all Kingsman on doofus writer Michael R. Perry, masterful scribe behind Paranormal Activity 2.

Are the actors at all to blame for The Voices? In script form — presumably the only form in which The Voices seemed moderately palatable — it must still be apparent that the Academy isn’t going to be knocking on any doors anytime soon. Voices is ostensibly an edgy black comedy about a guy who kills women and talks to animals; the fact that it turned out to be a shitty movie is beside the point, because when Jacki Weaver and Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick agreed to perform in the film they might not have known how bad the final product would be. But they did know the script, and so they agreed to slum it for the time being. Weaver has been nominated for two acting Oscars (for Animal Kingdom and Silver Linings Playbook) while Arterton and Kendrick have promising careers ahead of them. Voices would see their disembodied heads joking around with Reynolds’s psycho before being shut back in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, we’re supposed to be sympathizing not with them but with Reynolds. Really?

Maybe they needed the money. That’s a judgement-free statement, surprisingly enough. When Oscar-winner Sir Ben Kingsley was asked why in the hell he agreed to be in the godawful Bloodrayne, his answer was simple: “I have always wanted to play a vampire.” He called his own reasoning immature, which should remind us that a) Ben Kingsley does not give a f*ck and b) actors don’t need good reasons to be in movies. That’s a big generalization, especially in an article that discusses Ghandi and Van Wilder side-by-side, so maybe it’s just that the reasons aren’t always as noble as we cinephiles might like to think. Maybe you just want to be a vampire, or a superspy. Maybe you just want to take part in something that’s not dead serious, schlep around with a funnyman like Reynolds, have a laugh or two while you wait for a real passion project to arise.

I can see that: Voices and Kingsman could have both been a lot of fun to film. Maybe they both were, but the only one capable of transferring that fun over to the viewer is Kingsman. Thus is the dynamic nature of risk when you opt in below your pay grade: sometimes you get to backflip around with dozens of weapons and be the best part of your blockbuster, and sometimes you play second fiddle to a talking cat.

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